Petronius lived during the reign of the notorious emperor Nero, a writer in a decadent empire, and in Frederic Raphael he finds a translator who brings his words vividly alive. Petronius' Rome is not the noble civilisation of classical ideals; his Romans are lascivious, amoral and stylish, inhabiting a louche world of ostentatious, nouveau riche extravagance and flirtation with the seductive menace of the Roman underclass. In Raphael's hands, the "Satyrica" becomes a modern novel, Petronius a contemporary. Freed of the weight of classical decorum, the "Satyrica" is racily subversive, scandalously entertaining. This work, writes Raphael, has always been excluded from the curriculum: it offers no improving pieties. Petronius' - and Raphael's - ancient Rome is recognisably the city of Pasolini and Fellini as much as of Virgil.
Petronius (27?-66AD) has been identified with Gaius Petronius Arbiter, consul and enlightened governor of Bythnia, in Asia Minor. He became an intimate of Nero, by whom he was appointed as master of hedonistic ceremonies. Implicated (probably incorrectly) in a plot to kill Nero, he was ordered by the Emperor to take his own life. Frederic Raphael was born in Chicago in 1931 and educated at Charterhouse and St John's College, Cambridge. His novels include The Glittering Prizes (1976) and Coast to Coast (1998). His early notebooks were published by Carcanet in 2001 as Personal Terms. Frederic Raphael's work includes screenplays for such notable films as Darling (for which he won an Oscar), Two for the Road and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.